The game starts with a beautiful, elegant woman asking you to lead an assault against an evil power and avenge the fallen soldiers. Isn’t that a bit out of context? I mean, I have no idea where we are, what she is talking about and why I should help her. Besides the lack of an introduction, there are no other characters to talk to. The same lady operates as a merchant and has nothing new to say afterwards. Generally the story and dialogue are very poor despite the fact you can choose to play as a good or evil character.
You start by selecting your adventurer among a cleric, barbarian, sorcerer, etc. In relation to Champions of Norrath there are two new classes, a humanoid lizard and a creature who looks like a Thundercat. I think no matter what your tastes are you can find someone you like. Then, you allocate points to his/her attributes: strength, intelligence, stamina and dexterity. The latter is good if you play with ranged weapons, strength is necessary for melee combat and carrying heavy loads, stamina increases your health and intelligence helps you cast more spells.
I tried two characters, the ranger and the dark knight. The ranger almost made me quit the game because she depends on shooting arrows but there is no auto-aim, so she often misses. The dark knight is much better. Her disease bolt is effective both against normal enemies and bosses and I also liked ‘engulfing darkness” and “summon skeleton”. The first creates a small dark cloud that can confuse monsters while the second offers you an undead ally.
The graphics engine and art style are the same as in Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 1 and 2 and Champions of Norrath. They have excellent colors, atmospheric use of light and shadow and plenty of imagination. The mine under the junkyard is marvelous, with its floor covered by green moss and blue lights creating an eerie atmosphere. Later you go to tropical islands with palm trees, seagulls and huts. The plane of disease is sick, with red, yellow and green slimes and other…disgusting things while the haunted forest is spooky. The animation is detailed, for example ogres grasp their necks as they die, robots shake violently before they explode and samurais commit suicide. There are not many visual effects but they are good, such as the ice particles appearing when you swing the “Stormblade”. However, the presentation could be better, for example when I gave a mechanic an object he needed to build a siege engine a cut-scene of the machine being completed would be nice.
The music is epic, though not as impressive as before and there are long periods of silence. The sound effects are realistic and distinct, e.g. listen to big vases breaking or ghouls slashing with their claws. Characters have clear, convincing voices and the actors give them personality. I even recognized the actress who played Randalla, a confident caravan guard in DA 2, and lends her voice to cunning, seductive Natasla here.
The control is almost the same as before. You run with the left analogue stick and rotate or zoom in the camera with the right stick. You can attack, switch between ranged and melee weapons or block. You may talk to someone/open doors or chests, drink a potion to recover lost health or magical energy and teleport back to a safe place (as in Diablo 2, with “town portal”). The inventory still has six pages (weapons, armor, other valuables, character sheet, skills, quest log) and the map remains useful. You may assign different skills to a circle with eight spots to choose among them quickly (this has the same function as the shift menu in DA 2). The only changes are now you have two buttons for casting spells instead of one, there is no jump and you can perform an infinite combo by tapping the attack button. The control is very easy to learn and makes the game entertaining.
The difficulty is low or medium although you’ll need to consume dozens of potions to progress through the game faster. A few strikes are enough to dispose of enemies, however, some of them, such as the minotaurs or monsters with enchanted weapons, deal a lot of damage. I also hate it when they perform combos that can deplete almost all my energy in a couple of seconds. Other observations I made are: 1) The shop doesn’t have very good items, so I relied on luck to find new equipment by killing monsters. 2) Unlike previous games, enemies don’t interrupt your attacks so you can hack and slash through them in a hurry. This makes the action less tactical but more fluid. 3) You can go back to previous areas but if you do that without having finished your current mission you will lose all progress in it. 4) Make sure you check all your available skills: I couldn’t find a way to cross a cave inhabited by invincible creatures until I used the “shadow step” skill.
Champions: Return to Arms offers the same successful formula of the three previous productions. Some innovation, for example having two different buttons for slashing or solving puzzles, would be welcome. However, it’s still a solid game.
|Platform||Sony PlayStation 2|
|Publisher(s)||Daybreak Game Company|
Hack and Slash
Article by Dimitris